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Anwar’s re-conviction: Implications for Malaysia’s opposition

13 Mar Anwar’s re-conviction: Implications for Malaysia’s opposition

Anwar Ibrahim, the leader of the Malaysian opposition, has been re-convicted on charges of sodomy after his acquittal was overturned by Malaysia’s Appeal Court. His five-year jail sentence means that he is therefore unable to stand as the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PKR) candidate for the by-election in Kajang, Selangor.

The sentence is a blow to his plan to use his position in Kajang as a platform from which to run for Chief Minister of the state. Being in charge of Malaysia’s richest state would have allowed Anwar to strengthen his position before the next general elections, which must be held by 2018. This would also have allowed him to personally deal with the upswing in political and religious tensions in the state, which the opposition alleges is being incited by the ruling coalition Barisan National (BN).

Anwar: a strong opposition personality

Anwar’s absence may in fact boost the PKR’s votes in the Kajang by-election; he is being replaced as PKR’s candidate by his wife, Wan Azizah Wan Ismail. This move may give sympathy votes to the PKR. Even if Anwar is removed from the political scene for the next five years, his influence over Malaysian politics will remain.

Nevertheless, the fact that the “Kajang move” is so reliant on one strong opposition figure, namely Anwar, shows that the PKR is dependent on charismatic individuals for political success. The opposition claims that a “Kajang move” is possible without Anwar’s presence, as PKR leaders such as Wan Azizah can still wield power in Selangor. However, they may not have the sway or charisma of Anwar in order to exert the same strong influence.

Anwar serves as a potent symbol for the Malaysian opposition. However, the fact that the opposition is so reliant on his personality is troubling for the Malaysian opposition. The opposition would need to ensure that other people can emerge as strong leaders, in order to ensure continuity in leadership if the present leaders are unable to function.


Wan Azizah Replaces Anwar as PKR Candidate in Kajang By-Election – [Channel News Asia, 10 March 2014]